The NHS Litigation Authority’s annual report has ceased to function as a “neutral document” presenting the figures and has instead become “tainted with politics”, a leading personal injury QC has argued.
Andrew Ritchie QC, chair of the Personal Injury Bar Association, said the latest report contained “a lot of good news”, which showed that the NHSLA was driving down the cost of medical negligence litigation.
“Once the last of the pre-LASPO cases is completed in the next two years and success fees and ATE premiums are no longer part of the expenditure of the NHSLA, the taxpayer should save a lot more money.”
Even now, the QC said, the NHSLA’s net operating costs had fallen by 27% in 2014-15, to £2.64bn, which he described as a “massive improvement” in performance and “substantial saving” in taxpayers’ money.
The number of claims reported to the authority also fell during the year, from 11,945 to 11,497, despite an increase in the number of patients being treated and reported incidents.
Writing on the 9 Gough Square website, Mr Ritchie said the third “very encouraging fact” in the annual report was that the total sum paid out in damages had gone down from £841m to £774m.
The QC described it as “surprising and disappointing” that the three positive facts about the NHSLA were “completely omitted” from both the welcome by chair Ian Dilks and report of chief executive Helen Vernon.
“In the new-style NHSLA reporting this year, the good news is downplayed, a political approach is taken and only the figures which suit the political aims of the Department of Health or the government is put forwards and highlighted. The aim is clear – to attack the fees charged by claimant lawyers.
“This raises the question: is the NHSLA now a political body rather than an independent body fulfilling a vital function in society?”
The annual report stated that the amount paid to claimant lawyers to cover legal fees and disbursements rose from £259m to £292m in 2015.
However, Mr Ritchie said that when the higher number of closed cases was taken into account, the increase was just over 5% per case and that may be influenced by court fees, which had “gone up substantially”.
The QC’s analysis showed that, in total, 11% of NHSLA money was spent on claimant lawyers and 4% on defence lawyers, making a total of 15%.
He said the NHSLA figures did not include costs and disbursements on experts, which were “inherently disproportionate” for low-value medical negligence claims – costing as much to prepare a case for an elderly pensioner claiming £15,000 as a businessman claiming £50,000.
Mr Ritchie invited the NHSLA to “revise and reissue” the annual report with a more balanced set of conclusions.
He added that the Department of Health consultation on capped fees for medical negligence claims was the government’s first step “towards strangling a patient’s rights to sue for clinical negligence if they are poor, old, unemployed or disabled”.
Andrew Ritchie QC is one of the speakers at PI Futures – Making personal injury pay on 30 September in Manchester. Tickets are free for those at law firms. Click here for details.